Getting the ‘public’ back in public health research

Greater transparency and clearer communication are needed when involving the public in health research, according to a new paper in the latest edition of the Sax Institute’s journal Public Health Research & Practice (PHRP).

The paper describes consultations with patient and carer representatives from health consumer networks, and it found that consumers want to be involved in health research and make valuable contributions. But researchers need to get much better at communicating benefits and risks.

The authors write: “Our volunteers emphasised the importance of knowing the specific details of individual projects so that people can make well-informed decisions about whether to be involved and what they can expect, including risks and benefits.

“Information needs to be tailored to the audience using nonscientific language and culturally appropriate concepts, and needs to clearly articulate the relevance (or not) of the research to the individual.”

The latest issue of the peer-reviewed journal, which is freely available online, puts the spotlight on getting the ‘public’ back in public health research. According to Editor-in-Chief Don Nutbeam, the issue contains a range of papers that “strengthen confidence in the feasibility of conducting quality research that embraces the priorities and preferences of communities”.

In one paper, researchers find that school-based vaccination programs could be strengthened by allowing consent to be lodged online instead of through paper forms, and by ensuring schools do a better job of coordinating the immunisations.

Another research paper explores the perceptions of older people with respect to yoga being an acceptable form of exercise, and whether yoga could be part of an effective fall prevention strategy.

The issue also includes an evaluation of an intensive smoking cessation program, which finds a combination of financial awards and intensive support may be effective in helping pregnant Aboriginal women quit smoking.

PHRP is Australia’s first online-only open-access peer-reviewed public health journal, published by the Sax Institute with a strong focus on the connection between research, policy and practice.

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